If there’s one maintenance item you can do yourself, it’s changing your own oil. It’s easy, you can save yourself a few bucks, it’s a good thing to teach your kids, and you don’t have to worry about the people down at EZ-Joe’s Lube & Check Cashing messing something up on your pride and joy — something that’s unfortunately common.
While we’re all finding ourselves with more time than we know what to do with right now, what better time to save a few bucks and learn a useful skill? Obviously this guide will be pretty generalized, but it should apply equally to just about any semi-modern vehicle out there with an internal combustion engine.
First lets get to the guide on how to change your engine oil, and then afterwards I’ll throw in some helpful tips and answer some FAQ like what the oil weights mean, and whether you need synthetic or not.
What You’ll Need:
- Oil (check your manual for how much and what weight)
- Oil filter
- Filter wrench/strap wrench
- Standard wrench or socket set
- Drain pan
- Jack, jack stands, or ramps (depending on clearance)
- Funnel (or some computer paper can work)
How to change your oil:
1) Find out what oil and filter you need
Check your owner’s manual for what weight oil you need, as well as the oil capacity for your engine. If you don’t have your manual, I recommend calling up your dealership and asking them. Yes, you can Google this, but you’re dooming yourself to endless forum threads of people arguing what they THINK is the best oil to run, because their cousin Skooter owns a shop and totally knows better than you.
Your local auto parts store will also have this information on hand, as well as what filter you need. They’re also a good resource for disposing of your oil later on.
Just go by the weight and capacity that your vehicle’s manufacturer recommends.
2) Lift that sucker up if you need to
Most cars and some lower trucks and SUVs will need to be raised up to get access to everything you need to do this. Personally I prefer ramps for this, as they are safer and easy than messing with jacks and jack stands.
Your owners manual will have a section on where to jack your car from, if you don’t have that available, do yourself a favor and Google around for the answer for your vehicle specifically. Always remember to use jack stands for safety specific vehicle. Every car will have a designated jacking point, and many have screw-in jacking pads that are included in your car’s tool kit.
3) Remove under tray or skid plates (if equipped)
Most newer cars come with an under tray of some sort for aerodynamics, or some trucks/SUVs will come with a skid plate to protect the oil pan. These are usually held on by a few bolts or clips around the perimeter of the tray. Some of these will have an access hole or hatch for the oil drain plug, so you might not have to remove the whole thing.
Pro tip: When you set the tray/plate aside, put the hardware/clips in the holes that they came out of, that way you won’t lose them and always know where they came from.
4) Find the drain plug, filter, and prep
The drain plug will be on the oil pan on the bottom of the engine, and the filter is likely close by on the underside of the engine. This isn’t always the case, however, for instance many Subarus will have an oil filter facing upwards under the hood.
It helps to have the oil be a little warm when you drain it, so especially if you live in a cold climate, it’s not a bad idea to run the car for a few minutes to get the oil a little warm, but do not get the engine up to temp, as we do not the oil to be hot.
The oil fill cap (or 710 cap) will most likely be on the top of the engine, as well as the dipstick.
5) Drain the oil
Situate your drain pan under the drain plug while keeping in mind the trajectory the oil might take. If your drain plug is at an angle or is on the side or corner of the oil pan, the oil will likely go out to the side in that direction before settling to dripping straight down. Keep an eye on this and be ready to adjust. Otherwise you’ll have quite the mess on your hands.
Before you undo the drain plug, remove the oil cap or dipstick at the top to help with draining. Get your pan situated and remove the plug. Gloves are a good idea, as you’ll most likely be getting oil on your hands (hence why we do not want the oil to be hot). Most drain plugs are in the 14-17mm range. Clean off the drain plug and inspect the threads for damage. Replace if needed.
Let the oil drain for 15-ish minutes. Check your owners manual if they recommend replacing the crush washer on the drain bolt, your auto parts store will have these. Once you’re confident you got it all, you can reinstall the drain plug. Be very careful to not cross-thread the bolt as it threads in, and then tighten it down snug with a wrench, but do not over tighten!
You just want the bolt to be tight, anything more can damage the threads and give you some serious headaches in the future.
6) Replace the oil filter
You might be able to get the oil filter off by hand, but more than likely you’ll need an oil filter socket or a strap wrench to get it off. Your local auto parts store should have either. Unfortunately some shops tighten filters down way too hard, and they can be a real pain to remove.
Even after letting the oil drain for 15 minutes, pulling the filter off is almost assuredly going to make a little bit of a mess. Once you break it loose, have the drip pan ready with the other hand and a rag or two nearby to wipe up anything that spills or drips down your arm.
After removing the filter, make sure there is no o-ring or gasket still on the engine where you removed it from. I recommend taking a little bit of oil and wiping it on the new filter’s threads and o-ring/gasket before screwing it in.
Just like with the drain plug, you don’t want the filter on too tight. I recommend tightening the filter by hand. Once the filter seats against the o-ring, give the filter about three-quarters of a turn. You should only need a strap wrench to do this if the filter is in an awkward position that makes it hard to grip well enough to tighten.
7) Add new oil
Double check to make sure your filter and drain plug are in place, snugged up, and are seated correctly. Now break out that funnel and start adding oil. Check for leaks periodically as you add oil until you get to the recommended amount. As you start getting close to the recommended amount of oil (lets say 5.5 quarts), it’s not a bad idea to check the dipstick and see where that puts you.
Clean the dipstick between checks, and once you hit the cold full line, go ahead and put the oil fill cap back on and dipstick back in. Now go turn on the car and let the engine run for 30 seconds or so, shut it off, and check for leaks.
Pull the dipstick out again, clean the end, reinsert it to check again, and then see where the oil level is sitting. Add oil as needed.
8) Clean up, dispose of oil
Now you can reinstall the under tray, bring the car down to sit on its own tires again, and clean up. Next step is to take your drip pan and filter to an auto parts store or your local municipality’s hazardous waste disposal.
Once you get back from that, check again for leaks, and give your dipstick one more level check to see where you are with the engine up to temp. Add oil as needed.
Boom, you’re done!
What the heck do these oil weights mean? 10w30? 5w20?
These numbers dictate the viscosity of the oil at different temperatures. The lower the number, the lighter the oil is, and easier it will flow. The first number before the “w” is the cold (w stand for winter) rating, and the number after the “w” is the viscosity of the oil at 210 degrees F.
Multiweight engine oils like this are formulated so that the oil flows well enough even at subzero temperatures to properly make its away around the engine to make sure everything is lubricated. Then once the oil gets up to temp, it’s viscous enough to provide adequate protection for all the different rotating assemblies.
What weight oil should I use?
Use what the manufacturer recommends. Period. Like I mentioned before, you can go down a seriously unproductive rabbit hole in car groups and forums with everyone arguing what weight they use and how everyone but them is wrong. Don’t bother. Just use what your manufacturer recommends, no matter what Skooter says.
Synthetic or dino oil?
I always recommend synthetic, and more and more cars are coming with it from the factory now. It’s a little more expensive, but it’s generally better than conventional oils, and isn’t reliant on our finite supply of fossil fuels.
If your engine used synthetic in the past, use synthetic. If you’re not sure, use synthetic. It’s worth the extra few bucks.
How often should I change my oil?
Go by what your vehicle’s manufacturer recommends. Back in the day this used to be a blanket 3,000 mile interval, but modern oils and engine tolerances have evolved to the point where this is almost assuredly overkill (unless the manufacturer still says this is the case).
It’s likely in the ~6k range, but some manufacturers like Ford have raised that recommendation to as much as every 12k miles in recent years. Crazy, right?
Have any other DIY guides you’d like to see featured in our DIY Everything series or have any questions on the above guide? Drop a comment below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org